I just thought of something last night, to go along with my latest ASoIaF vs. GoT post. I’m also working on a book/show comparison of the bath scene at Harrenhal, and this could theoretically go in that post, but it doesn’t really fit with any compare/contrast. It’s just one of those little light bulb moments that I want to talk about.
(And the moment that I apologize for being obsessed with Goddamn Brienne of Freaking Tarth is the moment I apologize for my own existence. I’ve had worse obsessions.)
The thing that just occurred to me is that the knights’ wager for her maidenhead (seriously, go read my last post if you don’t know what I mean) explains a lot about Brienne’s social behavior in the second and third books. When Catelyn meets her in A Clash of Kings, it’s still very soon after the game has been exposed, and Brienne is still raw from what those knights did to her. She longs for connection but she can’t trust a connection with anyone except Renly or Catelyn. She’s learned from very recent experience that any man who appears to like her has some vicious ulterior motives.
(Slight digression: women can be just as cruel as men where Brienne is concerned, but their cruelty takes different forms. It would be impossible for a bunch of women to do to her what those knights were trying to do.)
This is Brienne’s attitude for most of what we see of her in A Clash of Kings: competent, helpful, earnest, hard-working, but extremely circumspect in her interactions:
Any task Catelyn asked her to turn her hand to, Brienne had performed deftly and without complaint, and when she was spoken to she answered politely, but she never chattered, nor wept, nor laughed. She had ridden with them every day and slept among them every night without ever truly becoming one of them.
It was the same when she was with Renly, Catelyn thought. At the feast, in the melee, even in Renly’s pavilion with her brothers of the Rainbow Guard. There are walls around this one higher than Winterfell’s.
Martin, George R.R. (2003-01-01). A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 2) (p. 420). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
She has those walls around herself because the last time she appeared to be making friends, it turned out to be a cruel, disgusting game that could have resulted in her getting knocked up by some jackass knight who was doing it for a pot of gold.
Then there’s the bath with Jaime at Harrenhal, in which she doesn’t respond so well to his apology:
“That was unworthy,” he mumbled. “I’m a maimed man, and bitter. Forgive me, wench. You protected me as well as any man could have, and better than most.”
She wrapped her nakedness in a towel. “Do you mock me?”
That pricked him back to anger. “Are you as thick as a castle wall? That was an apology. I am tired of fighting with you. What say we make a truce?”
Martin, George R.R. (2003-03-04). A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 3) (p. 505). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
She’s not stupid, she’s not willfully difficult, and it’s not the apology that sets off her alarm bells: it’s the praise. She doesn’t respond well to a compliment from a man because the wager for her maidenhead taught her that when men (aside from the noble Renly Baratheon) pay her compliments, they’re cooking up some fresh batch of fuckery.
It’s also possible that she’s taken so much mockery throughout her life, and heard so few apologies, that she can’t tell when an apology is trustworthy, but mostly I think it’s Jaime admitting how well she protected him, that she mistakes for mocking.
She understands now, though, that Jaime was perfectly sincere. He mocked her before then, and sometimes after, and it cut her, but his mockery never pretends to be anything else. When he praises her, the praise is trustworthy.